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THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES.
"But can ye not discern the signs of the times?"-MATT. xvi. 3.
By this expression I would be understood to mean such features or characteristics of the age, as may lead to the expectation that certain appropriate consequences, attached to them in the inspired record, are likely to follow: just as we augur the approach of summer, or of winter, from their usual precursors. I confine myself to such as belong more peculiarly to our own nation.
Some of these signs have been indicated already, in stating the prominent sins of the times; for those sins are themselves signs: as, for instance, liberalism, infidelity, and impenitency. These, we must admit, are symptoms of a state of things by no means healthy. We shall adduce some others of a similar kind, reserving for the sequel the mention of such as are more auspicious; for such, (the Lord be blessed,) there unquestionably are.
1. First, then, let us notice the LUXURY of the age. We are a self-indulgent generation, "whose god is our belly." I speak, of course, of the generality. The days in which we live, are days of
soft and silken professorship.'1 Far am I from decrying cleanliness and comfort, or even a pure and simple elegance. Nay, I desire to see my poorer brethren, in Ireland especially, advanced in the scale of civilization in this respect. What I denounce is, the excess of riot, the superfluity of naughtiness;" the extreme fastidious refinement of the age. We have arrived at a height of extravagance in dress, furniture, and the appointments of the table, of which our plainer, but more vigorous ancestors never dreamed. Some expend on a single entertainment, a larger sum than would provide a comfortable meal for a thousand families, or than would maintain a missionary on his field of usefulness for a whole twelve-month! In our cities especially, the luxury and voluptuousness of the wealthy surpass all parallel in these countries. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," there reign unrivalled. Indeed, every where we may actually trace the effects of increasing wealth and luxury, in banishing one by one the habits, and new-modelling the phraseology of stricter times, and in diffusing throughout the middle ranks those relaxed morals and dissipated manners, which were formerly confined to the higher classes of society. This is a bad sign of the times. This bloated appearance on the surface, indicates that the system is internally unsound. Pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness, were the ruin
1 Dr. Chalmers.
2 Mr. Wilberforce.
of Sodom;1 and never were ancient Nineveh, or Babylon, or Rome so conspicuous for every thing that pandered to effeminacy and animal indulgence, as when they were nearest their downfall. "And
in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth and behold joy and gladness, slaying of oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of Hosts, surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts." 2
2. Another portentous speck on our sky is
THE UNPRINCIPLED CONDUCT OF PUBLIC MEN.
Many, who from their education and position in society, and from their stake in the country, should be expected, even from a regard to their own interests, to follow peace themselves and promote it among others, seem, on the contrary, like the peterel, to find pleasure only in the storm. Taking on their lips the sacred name of patriotism, they are in reality their country's deadliest foes; being enemies of that righteousness whereby alone a nation is exalted. Shutting their eyes to all history, and their ears to all expostulation, they will listen to nothing but their own voices, and the voices of those who join with them in the same factious and insensate cry. Instead of pouring oil into their
1 Ezekiel xvi. 49.
2 Isaiah xxii. 12-14.
country's bleeding wounds, they add fuel to the inflammable materials which threaten her combustion.
Instead of being the guides and beacons of the people, to point them the course of rectitude and safety, they are the fatal maelstrooms in the sea of agitation, that draw within their vortex all the loose and worthless weeds, that fluctuate on the surface of society. O! how is the country cursed by Catalines! O, how are the good sense and good feeling of the community outraged! "The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed."
Abetted by a base and immoral press, which wafts their assertions over the world, as on the wings of ten thousand demons, they set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth! They "speak oppression and revolt; conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood." They say, Our lips are our own who is Lord over us?' Even when they inculcate peace, it is after the manner of dissemblers. Their words are smoother than oil, having war in their hearts. "Frowardness is in their hearts they devise mischief continually; they sow discord. Therefore shall their calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall they be broken without remedy." 1
Turn we now to the senate-house,—the grand
1 Prov. vi. 14, 15.
council-chamber of the empire: that place, where we should expect to be instructed and delighted by the concentrated wisdom of the nation; that place which should be the sacred seat of gravity and order: O! what an arena does it present of strife and violence! what a boiling crater of fierce and ungovernable passions! The most gross mis-statements, the most rude personalities, the most puerile misconduct disgrace the assembly. Reason and sound sense are of no avail. Though one spake with the tongues of men and angels, he would but beat the air. The majority appear to come, determined to vote, not according to the real merits of the question before them, but according to their own selfish views. With the exception of a few noble and gifted spirits, who fear not to stand up in the midst of their fellows, 'faithful among the faithless,' and to witness for the truth and for the Lord; pique, and ambition, and partyspirit, and private interest, appear to actuate the national representatives. The interests of the nation are sacrificed at the shrine of selfishness. They all look to their own way, every one for his gain from his quarter.'
And when any measure, immediately connected with religion and the empire's genuine welfare, is ventured to be introduced, with what indecent levity, with what unblushing ridicule, with what audacious scoffing, is the solemn subject treated! As if the recognition of a Supreme Being, and regard to his authority, were altogether antiquated